Monday, August 30, 2010

The Waning Days

Our vacation trip is gradually drawing to a close. Dominick's surprise visit ended today as we put him on a plane in Santa Barbara bound for home, and all were feeling just a tad bit less jovial as he departed. We will remain with Grandma's until Thursday morning, when we will head back towards home, perhaps via the Grand Canyon as it appears it is about the same amount of drive time that direction as our usual route and we have never seen it.

We have crammed a lot into this trip, and God has placed a lot on our hearts for growth as well. I have been surprised by the issues we have visited and the continuing progress in so many directions.

On Friday Matthew and I had a special date together, as we left the rest of the kids behind with Daddy to go swimming while we had a more serious mission. We visited the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. This is an amazing experience as you walk through a 70 minute series of scenes with video imagery and displays that explain events leading up to the Holocaust and help you gain an intimate understanding of the atrocities committed from the victim's perspective. While this would not be for everyone Matthew's age (He was the youngest present of the 2 groups we saw), and the other children were definitely not ready for something like this, we felt Matthew was educated enough about the background and mature enough to take away some real meaning from it. We also arrived early enough to participate in a small group discussion with a short film led by a self-proclaimed former skinhead which was a powerful presentation as well.

As we walked from scene to scene, Matthew kept gently grabbing for my hand as he took it all in, we quietly sat near one another for video segments, our eyes riveted to the screen as we silently took in images of a hatred and loathing that is utterly unimaginable to us. Man's inhumanity to man became real in a way it never could before, and we shook our head in horror as later we discussed how evil begets evil, and what group mob mentality can do to an entire society. We also talked about something I believe in passionately, and that is how evil exists because good men and women stand by and do nothing...and how God can work through a single person to bring about change in this world by helping others break free of the bonds of inertia simply by stepping forward with courage and leading the way.

As we talked on the drive home, I asked Matt what he would have done had he been a young German man then...would he have been so afraid for his own life that he would have felt it impossible to do anything but what was asked of him? Would he have tried to flee the country? Would he have willingly joined with the rest of his countrymen believing the lies that Hitler obviously was able to "sell" to millions? Without hesitation he responded "Mom, there is no way I could have killed innocent people, I would have joined the Resistance and done whatever I could to help my country be a good place." "What if you were threatened with death?" I asked. "I would die either way, probably, and I'd rather die knowing I had done the right thing." he replied. But he admitted he could understand the fear that led so many to do such horrible things. What he couldn't understand is how some came to love the killing, how their souls rotted from the inside out and created such hard hearts that all compassion had left them.

Was all of this appropriate for an 11 year old? Yes, for this 11 year old it was. For some it might not be, but Matthew has studied World War 1 on his own for a couple of years now. He knows names of battles, equipment, and some of the causes. What he had not yet encountered was the reality of national prejudice and hatred that was at the root of it all. While he has never, ever glorified war despite his great interest, he had not yet had it personalized for him beyond dates and names. That is why I selected "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom as his first real adult novel for a book study this fall. Not only is the writing evocative and powerful, but it addresses another side of war in a very personal way which will leave an indelible impression on him, just as it did for me when I read it all those many years ago. We will read some of the chapters together, and some he will read alone, then we will discuss the material using a book study from Progeny Press to help go deeper with meaning and understanding. I have a feeling this fall will be a time of rich personal growth for Matthew.

Saturday was spent at the dentist...again...finishing up Angela's root canal and the remainder of the fillings for everyone else. It was another marathon day, from 9 AM till 4:00 PM, and everyone was in at least a little pain and extremely tired from sitting in the office all day long. Angela's root canal caused her a lot of pain initially but it calmed down later in the evening. Poor Joshie was in tears in the chair as he had a rough filling to suffer through when 2 shots of anesthetic didn't fully work. It was at that moment when I gained an even greater respect for the mothers of critically ill children who undergo incredibly painful procedures on a routine basis...I don't know how they make it through and I am thankful that we have not had to face anything of that nature.

We are profoundly grateful to Dominick's extended family (the office is a family run business) for their care for the kids, and for helping us be able to afford so much dental work. When you bring home older adopted kids, dental care can be incredibly costly as most often there has been little to no attention paid to oral hygiene, and even if there has been many children enter the orphanage after years of living with biological parents whose concerns were not always exactly focused on whether their kids brushed their teeth or not. In our case, even Josh who came home as an infant had a rotting tooth suspected to be caused by poor early nutrition in-utero or in his early months as it was literally rotting from the inside out, and we were told "This has nothing at all to do with poor brushing...it actually looks good on the outside but is crumbling from the inside when I touch it with a tool.".

We had a wonderful short visit with relatives from Tucson who came in to see the kids while we were here, and it was so thoughtful of them to make the quick (and VERY LONG drive) turnaround so we could all get together and the girls could meet their aunt and her mom who is the very special lady who has made each of our children a welcome home quilt as they arrived. As our family started adding children later than our siblings, our kids' second cousins are closer in age to them than their first cousins are, and I think it has all been a little confusing to the girls!!

Today we had the privilege of meeting a years long adoption friend in person for the first time and we spent the afternoon with her and her mother. It was beautiful in Santa Barbara and while the kids swam, we adults visited and shared our experiences with one another. It is always a kick for me to meet folks in person whom I have known online for years and years, and a special blessing to be able to say face to face "Thank you for being there, thanks for your support and help, thanks for your friendship." The adoption community is a remarkably special group to belong to, and many of my friendships over the years have been very rewarding even if we don't hang out in person. The power of the internet has allowed relationships to blossom and connections to be formed where before we might never have connected.

Our remaining few days here will be spent relaxing, visiting with grandma's and probably visiting the church Dominick and I were married in, as we have been bugged at least 25 times by the kids to go see it. Our time here is winding down, and we will head back soon to spend a week at home catching up, then on to Chicago for Round Two and Kenny's next surgery. He will have a bone graft from his other hip for the other side of his cleft in the jaw bone, and another attempt will be made to close his palate. We pray that this time it is successful, and that his recovery is as easy as the last time.

The waning days of summer are upon us, fall will soon arrive, and we have a pocket full of deep meaning to take back with us as we look over this trip. So much more happened here than just a family visit, so much more might still be awaiting us in our last days and drive home. We are all missing our own beds, our friends, our life back in Montrose but we are squeezing as much out of this time as we can.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finally Photos...And Disney Magic Exposed

We have spent a special time together as a family here, even more special as Dominick surprised us all with a visit as he arrived this afternoon and remains until Sunday! We laughed this evening as we said it sort of feels like Kazakhstan earlier in the year...him coming and going, me alone with the kids, lots of emotions to deal with. All in all though, it is the stuff a rich life is made of, and it there isn't a single thing I would change.

I tried to post photos earlier, but was unable to until tonight. Here are a few. We went to the beach together where the girls saw the ocean for the first time, and the boys really played in it together for the first time as well. The past few visits it has been too chilly to wade in, and we plan on another trip soon WITH bathing suits! We visited the Channel Islands Harbor Visitors Center and learned a lot while there too.

Here's the gang at the Ventura Pier, where we walked and saw fisherman, surfers and seagulls.

Our three sons, and Kenny's delight is so obvious I just loves these shots.




In real life, school is always in session! The learning never stops as long as one is intellectually curious...the single most important thing I hope we can manage to instill in the kids.

Front and rear shots of Joshie...hahahaha!



Loved this one of Matthew looking out at the Ventura Harbor.

At the airshow the kids had a lot of fun. I loved the above warning on the airplane the pilot let us look at closely!





It was on to Disneyland yesterday, where we had a blast and a half thanks to the generosity of our friend whose husband's employee pass was a gift to let us all in! A day that I expected to be one I literally dragged through due to crowds and heat turned out to be extraordinarily special.

While I didn't take photos because I didn't want to drag along a great big camera and worry about it, there are moments that are indelibly imprinted upon my memory for all time. I was a bit concerned about being there with 5 kids, hoping none would get separated, but I needn't have been. We were quite the crew, stomping our way throughout the park, most of the time all of us holding hands as we ooohed and aahhhed over everything.

I can honestly say I left feeling such a sense of gratitude for our kids...not a single complaint even out of Joshua at close to midnight. We shared 3 meals for 6 of us to keep our costs down, and no one ever pushed to get their way about this ride or that ride. In fact, it was kind of cool to watch the pairings and sharing...turns out that Kenny and Angela were the Brave Ones tackling the large roller coaster in California Adventure and a couple of others, while Matthew was the Wise One as he decided not to go on some of the scarier rides, not because he was afraid but because he was being cautious about being on his feet too long in certain lines. He still suffered quite a bit and we all offered to go get him a wheelchair to make it through the remainder of the day, but he toughed it out. After a scarier ride, the "bigger kids" asked Josh and Olesya what they would like to do next, and we alternated easily between tamer and wilder rides. However Josh surprised us all with his willingness to do many of them, including Space Mountain and the Matterhorn!!

The Magic Kingdom was definitely magical for the girls who kept asking if the Pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean were real...and I was able to share with all the kids about Daddy and I on our first date there at the Blue Bayou restaurant inside the Pirates ride. They all giggled to think about us being not all that much older than they are now. We rode on the Winnie the Pooh ride and I heard all five declare over and over again "Ohh...isn't that cute!".

It was on It's a Small World where I was taken back to my youngest days sitting side by side with my Mom and Dad, who at the time seemed so strong, so perfect, so capable of fixing anything that ever went wrong in my world. I remembered singing that song over and over a million times, and even had a 45 rpm of it so I was thrilled to be on the actual ride, seeing the dolls of the world dancing before me. As we floated along last evening, my rainbow family and I, how could I not be deeply touched by the sentiments "It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, it's a world of hope and a world of fears, there's so much that we share that it's time we're aware, it's a small, small world.". I never could have imagined in a million years back as a 6 or 7 year old little girl that my family would reflect that song so clearly.

The kids all got to be little kids for a day, yes even the boys and not just the girls for whom all of this was so new. As I looked around at the hundreds of other kids wandering the walkways of Disneyland, I was struck by the fact that even at 11 and 12 years old, all our kids were still under the Disney spell, while others their age all seemed a bit jaded by it all. The girls, of course, were transfixed by it all for they had no idea what to expect but knew they would see Mickey Mouse's home. The castle actually caused them to suck in their breath at night, the costumed characters drew great big smiles, and even Autopia brought giggles and grins. But even the boys were singing along in It's a Small World, Matthew was so excited he did a jig at Splash Mountain, and the "Squash a Penny" machines had them all digging for quarters all over the park.

I thought to myself how lucky we are to live in a place where our children are still kids for awhile, where their childhood is not being rushed to pass too quickly. They all spent their saved and gift money on purchases that were perfect for each and also somewhat reflected their innocence...Angela bought a stuffed Pooh Bear and huge character slippers, Kenny bought a mickey ears baseball hat, Olesya a Mickey Mouse watch, Joshua a set of huge white gloved hands to play with and yet another stuffed Pooh to go with his one at home because he wanted it not to be lonely and to have a brother, and Matthew in his usual style waited the entire day and would have gone home empty handed until he found the Lego Store at Downtown Disney at the end of the day and bought a large Lego set. At one point we almost ended up with an enormous Pooh Bear when Angela, Matthew, Olesya and Kenny all put their heads together and wanted to pitch in to buy it for Joshua, but when they found out it was over $100 they abandoned that idea.

Driving home today I was just so happy inside my heart, filled with love for my children. They are truly SO MUCH FUN to be with, a blessing in every way, easy going and good natured, honest and thoughtful towards everyone. They share the load, they bear one another's burdens, they nurture one another and their parents, just as they too in turn are nurtured and carried at times. I wondered to myself how this came to be, how we have managed to make it through some very, very challenging and difficult moments, how our children survived what they have been through to emerge intact and wholly able to give and receive love. It has not been easy, and it STILL isn't always easy, but one doesn't have to look too far to see the sacrifices others are making to help their children heal and recognize we have it pretty darned easy.

There are families who struggle daily...hourly...to bring wholeness to broken and broken hearted children. There are Super Moms and Dads out there who would give up their right lung for their child to stop suffering, and often they suffer in silence for fear of rejection and judgment from others. There are those who would say "See, I told you that adoption would end up like this!", just as we too have heard at moments. Yet still they trudge on into the Forest of Pain as they search for answers and try to find the Meadow of Peace somewhere in the middle.

I am so eternally thankful for making it this far, for having children who are bent, but not broken. To be their mother is the greatest gift I have ever been given, and I know Dominick feels the same way. There may be lots of research, lost sleep, late night worries, therapists and IEP's, but in the long run I always know how much harder it could be and all that we have been saved from. I also bow down with the utmost respect to those whose children are being parented with compassionate strength and purpose, with no end in sight to the challenges they face daily.

Tomorrow will be a day of rest and pool time, as we are busy this weekend with visits from cousins and aunts, another day long dental marathon to complete the work that was started, and a much anticipated chance to drive up the coast and meet a long time friend on Sunday. Now it is time to hit the hay myself and snuggle with my honey!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So Much for "Vacation"!

Well, this "vacation" seems to be turning more into a therapeutic journey. In the midst we are having fun, but there is something that has been unleashed that is anything but relaxing and vacation-like for me.

Tonight it was Olesya's turn, and a conversation stimulated by my desire to discover what had been niggling her the past few days turned into a tearfully honest dialogue over how she felt not important at the orphanage compared to Angela. There, Angela was sort of the Queen Bee, with Olesya the lowly little sister who was not at all recognized for her own special gifts. Olesya has been pushing a few buttons the past couple of days...nothing continued or excessive but just a little here or there and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. While we talked about her need to control things a bit and have it her way, she spilled it all about feeling out of control of so much back in Kazakhstan, and about feeling like a second fiddle to Angela.

We also talked about how hard it is to learn what a family really is, what it means to be part of one, and that it is a challenge to figure it all out. She admitted that while she loves her family and would never want to go back, she doesn't always understand things...like talking about our feelings, sharing our hearts, etc. We also talked frankly about Angela's needs right now, about how Angela remembers a lot of very sad things that Olesya is fortunate enough not to deal with due to being so young when in her biological family. Olesya told me how sad Angela used to be and how different she is now, and that she is glad about that. I told her that Angela is also feeling badly about how things went the first couple of weeks of our journey to adopt them, and she nodded saying "I know Mama, she feel so bad and sometimes she cry too about it."

I explained that was exactly why it was so important to talk about feelings, to share the sad and happy things, and that being in a family means you are not alone with these feelings anymore. But I acknowledged I also knew that they each didn't really have a vocabulary to express feelings or even how to label them. Olesya often says "I don't know" when asked how she feels about something, and I have come to realize it goes well beyond mere words that are not known, it extends much deeper and goes to her inability to even recognize what she feels. She said she really doesn't know what it is she is feeling, and that no one ever asked her before so she doesn't understand it...she knows "sad" and "happy" but not much of the depth and breadth in between.
I explained to her how to act during these conversations we will be having....that we look each other in the eye, that we try to put into words what we are feeling and that even if she didn't have the right words, she could use the words she did know and I would help her. I told her "I don't know" is never an answer, something I have always told our kids, and that I expected her to stop and really think about what was in her heart. I also said I knew she would need a lot of help with this and a lot of practice, but that I was here to help show her how to do it. We also talked about being honest with our feelings, even if she thought it might hurt my feelings. I explained I would say things sometimes that might make her angry, but my job was to help her learn and grow, and that might mean she wouldn't always want to hear what I had to say...but I hoped she would listen respectfully and be open to talking.

We ended with her in my arms for the longest time, crying a little and then heaving a big sigh of relief. She pulled away, smiled a little smile and said "I go say sorry to Matthew, thank you Mama for make me feel better. I tell you next time if I feel bad inside."

As Joshie lay in bed next to me as I type this, I wonder what in the world has happened to cause all this internal work to be going on right now. It is as if the dam gates were opened up and a flood of emotions has come pouring out of everyone, all at once, and I am left scrambling to clean it up with nothing more effective than paper towels! Not sure what has triggered this from all these kids, but there is some incredible and intense stuff swirling around me every single day.

Today in the pool, I played with the kids and it was obvious Angela has had another breakthrough with our conversation last night. She asked me to carry her around the pool like a baby, and for the first time I really held my daughter fully in my arms, cradling her and nuzzling her as I would had she been my infant baby girl. That this child would allow this, let alone ask for it, is quite an accomplishment on her part, and I am so proud of her willingness to fight to be brought to a place of wholeness. It is very difficult work for her, and requires tons of letting go.

I am sorry these posts are photo-free. I have my camera along, but have not broken it out much for some reason. I have a few pictures, but somehow seem inhibited emotionally from connecting through the lens...I go through periods like that now and again and I am not sure why. I will get some posted soon, I promise.

Maybe we have most of this out of the way as we look to begin a new week with fun activities ahead...visits with friends, Disneyland, the beach, more grandmas time. If not, then I guess we move through it all and see where we come out on the other side. Such surprises of unexpected soul work right now, but it happens in timing that is not ours to dictate, only to respond to.

Night all!

OK...So It's Hard, But It's Still All Good

Somehow, despite last night's post and the subsequent middle of the night wake up calls 3 different times from 3 different kids with dental pain and bad dreams, God grabbed me in a bear hug and held me close today.

Most of those hugs were from my kids, each at different moments reminding me gently yet firmly that all is well.

Joshie curled up beside me in bed this morning, his gentle face in slumber looking angelic, which is funnily how we all sort of view him.

Matthew walking in the parking lot of a store with his arms wrapped around my waist, leaning in for quiet Mom conversation.

Kenny with his arms draped over my shoulders as we watch a movie on TV this evening, leaning over to give me a peck on the cheek.

Olesya standing enfolded in my arms, head on my chest for the longest time, then looking up at me saying "Mama...I almost fall asleep like this!" and giving me her classic grin.

Angela with her head on my lap, my fingers whispery soft through her hair as she holds on to my other arm with all her might.

These are the moments that keep me going, these are the reminders of what it is all about.

We went to the local air show this morning, and it surprised me with a powerful moment of its own. Standing there proudly with hands over hearts as the national anthem was sung with gusto and resonance, I was struck by the presence of my long deceased Dad, whose love for country and airplanes were second only to his love for family. It was here on this very space where he sometimes worked on private planes himself, and I wondered what he would have thought of standing there with his Kazakh and Kyrgyz grandchildren beside him soaking up the atmosphere and peppering him with questions. Alas, that was never to be, and his grandchildren were not even a glimmer in our eye when he passed on, for we had much growing and journeying to do ourselves before bringing Matt to fruition...but his first grandson would have been a sheer delight to him with his own love of aircraft and all things military, and it is hard at moments not to see that somehow both of them got ripped off by that. But Dad visits me in Matt sometimes, and others have thankfully stepped in with similar passions and interests to fill the void.

Tonight, on the way back from dropping my mom off, I had Angela alone with me in the car and I said to her "I have something I want to show you...something special...". We drove up to the top of a hill that overlooks the town. It was the very spot Dominick and I used to drive to when we were kids dating...and sat there talking and dreaming about our future life together. While it does not feel like my town any longer, it once was the place where my dreams began, and looking out over it with my daughter by my side was a special experience. It was a blending of the old and new, and she was awestruck by the beauty, for she has had very little opportunity to be out at night ever, and to see such a nightscape stretched out before her caused a little gasp of pleasure as she said "Oh mama...this so purdy!".

We sat there for a moment quietly, side by side, then I began to share about the mistakes I had made as a kid living in this town, how I was glad I had a forgiving mother whom she now had met and who loved me unconditionally even when I had certainly hurt her at times, for children hurt their parents, and parents hurt their children. It is part of being in relationship with one another and perfection is unachievable. I talked about how fortunate her own biological mother was to have a forgiving daughter who was filled with the capacity to love even after being hurt and abandoned, and how proud I was of her for being able to see her mom for the bad mom she was, and yet still show such courage and strength to be able to she respect and love for her despite all that had happened.

Then, way up high there, looking down on the city of my own youth, I told her that I knew how deeply sorry she was for hurting us, and I said "I know it is because you feel more and more love for us that it bothers you even more now than it did then..." and she started to cry softly. I said to her "Just as my mom has forgiven me over and over again, just as you have forgiven your own mother over and over again, I too will forgive you over and over again. Always. It is what mothers and children do with each other, it is what God does with us. God forgives us, and has forgiven me for so many things I can't even begin to tell you all of them." I then went on "I don't want you to carry this in your heart any more, I want you to really know that it is OK to make mistakes, because I am here for you forever no matter what you do. Your first mom couldn't handle being a real mom, I can. You are a strong girl and I am a strong woman, and together we share something wonderful and beautiful in that strength. Real moms know their kids will make mistakes as they learn how to grow up, and what happened in Kazakhstan is a beautiful part of our story together, not something to be ashamed of or feel bad about. It shows how God's love can help us all forgive and love each other in a special way. And I know that you will forgive me for all the mistakes I will make in being your mom, and that you have already forgiven me for all the things I have done wrong already!".

Angela sat there quietly taking it all in, a tear falling occasionally, and then she spoke "I no want my old mom to ever be my mom again, I no want "--" to be my mom, I no want "--" to be my mom...I want only you forever. You most beautiful strong mom and I so so glad I come home with you and Papa. Thank you Mama for not mad at me. I be so sad if you not be my Mama and I stay in Kazakhstan. You good lovely Mama, you make best family."

Staring ahead at the glow that settles over Camarillo every evening, I held my daughter's hand in my own. Our warmth shared, palm to palm, heart to heart., much as I had shared that same loving warmth with my own husband to be all those years ago...palm to palm and heart to heart. That love grew and grew, and out of it sprung this circle of love called a family, one with enough spaciousness for imperfection, and enough grace for forgiveness.

Tonight I might be awoken again by stifled sobs from bad dreams, or nudges caused by a painful tooth. I might have to change a bed, dress a naked little boy, or remain awake with worries of future lives impacted by the actions of others long before they ever became ours. But I will rest well in between, knowing I am living a dream unlike what many others would ever aspire to, one that might not feel very enriching for some but for me is the fulfillment of so much that went unspoken for so long. I will know it will continue to be challenging in ways others might not ever understand or desire, and I will again be exhausted and overwhelmed. But I can always trust God's bear hugs will come, that just as I reassure our children that they are not alone in this world I too can take away much from that lesson for practical application.

Living a life of calling and purpose is not for wimps, but you all already know that as so many of you walk that life as well. So do our kids, and they are learning it through us, as we learned it from Jesus. But it makes for the most meaningful possible life, of that I am sure. I am so glad I was reawakened to that fact today. It will make tonight and tomorrow and all the other tomorrows be filled with the richness that comes from walking through the "it's not easy".



Friday, August 20, 2010

Sometimes, it's Just Hard

I dearly love being a mom. Even more I love being the mom to these particular children. But there are times when I feel like we will never see fully healed hearts, minds and bodies. There are times when I feel like a total loser, a wimp, and utterly incapable.

I'm sort of feeling that way these days. And this too shall pass, but today my brain and heart are on overload.

I am having to sit reasonably hard on Kenny right now, something I don't particularly care for but have no alternative until he settles back into himself. And I find myself worrying more this past couple of weeks about his ever maturing appropriately. Will I be living with an 8 year old (on a good day) in a 25 year old body someday? Will his inability to think things through logically and sequentially eventually cause a serious accident or keep him from supporting himself? Where are we failing him, what are we not recognizing, what is the missing component?

Joshua had a scare yesterday, he accidentally locked himself in the garage for about 2 minutes before being found panicked and pounding on the door. The tears went on for almost 45 minutes, he is so totally terrified of being alone in a well lit garage for literally less than 2 minutes. And his tears are not screams or typical kid whining or cries, they are mournful, achingly sorrow filled ones...trembling chin, trying hard not to totally lose it but failing. He doesn't understand the panic either, yet it returns over and over again.

I then found him naked in his bed last night, after a late night bathroom run myself. I was puzzled when I found all of his clothes on the floor, and thought at first maybe he had an accident but all was dry. Went to his bed and found him completely naked under the blankets, the result of more sleepwalking and late night disturbance. He had no idea he was naked, no idea how he got naked.

Then we had a protracted visit to the dentist today, while we didn't get all the work completed in one visit, the end result was 17 cavities, 1 unexpected root canal, 1 chipped tooth repair, 1 narrow miss for a 2nd root canal...5 frightened kids and 1 dental hygienist who was totally not getting it when I explained that I was not "babying" my larger kids whom she thought should be left alone to get their work done. Thankfully, the dentist was a distant relative who offered to help us out and was extraordinarily kind and understanding with each one. Josh almost had to have a root canal at 7 years old because one of his teeth was rotting from the inside out, and the dentist said it was most certainly from improper nutrition in utero and infancy, that it was not the result of poor brushing as overall his teeth looked very good. Josh was in a great deal of pain all the way home, but is feeling better this evening. Angela too is hurting a lot as another root canal was necessary for her failing teeth. 6 cavities were hers, her teeth are in terrible shape. She was tough, but it hurt a lot.

Before we left town, we had to stop and get Matthew new orthopedic shoes, which ran us a whopping $180, but what can we do? We have to do what we can to help lessen the pain, even if only a little.

How I wish it was easier sometimes, for us and for them. I know none of these taken individually is all that big of a deal. But on the drive home today as Josh was sobbing in the back seat and I can't find a doggone grocery store or drug store to get a bottle of Tylenol after pulling off the freeway twice, I was just filled with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. There are times I am just the teensiest bit envious of those mom's whose biggest challenge is trying to figure out what play date to schedule this week rather than worrying about surgeries and memory loss, heartbreak and trauma that lingers.

And it seems that nothing I am doing will ever really help eliminate any of this, like I am merely the Band Aid supplier that helps cover up the wound that lies beneath.

I am grateful this feeling doesn't flood me often, hardly ever in fact. But I am here in my swim trunks being swept away in a tide of momentary despair. I can't seem to adequately parent at the moment, I can not "Fix" even the littlest things, let alone the bigger things that loom so large. The boat is teetering on the edge of capsizing and I will be going down with it, I fear.

It isn't that I don't understand that every family has its challenges and ours are not necessarily all that unique. It isn't that I don't have an appreciation for this amazing assemblage of people I am blessed to call my family. It is an acknowledgement of the moments when you whisper to yourself "What else can I do??" as you struggle to keep your head above the water. I KNOW there are mothers parenting kids who have far worse issues, I KNOW there are parents who have lost children and would give their right arm and leg to be in our shoes, I KNOW I should not ever complain about the gift of these souls in our life and I am not really complaining about them, actually I am admitting my feelings of powerlessness over it all this night, and wishing my beloved sons and daughters didn't bear the burdens of some of this junk that they didn't create.

Sometimes, it is just hard, no two ways about it.

Sometimes, it is glorious.

We aren't at glorious right now, but we also aren't at Doomsday either.

I am just being a wimp and a whiner. I'll get over it, I always do.

And hard or not, damn I love them each so very much.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Different Kind of Discipline

We have arrived in Vegas after a boring and thankfully uneventful drive. Of course, it is breathtakingly hot here but we were greeted by our friends upon arrival and treated to a traditional Central Asian meal. The kids were totally wound up and bouncing off the walls, so we had pillow fights, wrestling matches and charades before our friends left and we settled down quickly for a good night's sleep.

Today was spent on the Strip in the company of our friends, exploring a couple of hotels/casinos and explaining what the games were, checking out the M&M store and marveling at the ridiculousness of American marketing genius, and seeing the man made display of electric excess as we cruised the strip this evening and the kids madly snapped pictures out the windows. 112 degrees, whew! We have all really experienced the gamut of Mother Nature's temperatures this year!!! From -70 to +112 in 6 month's time...that is quite a swing!

I am realizing on this trip that we are entering a new stage of parenthood, and as much as I will miss the stage we are gradually exiting, this new one is very special too. I am no longer the sole caregiver, there are no longer very young children to wipe up who blindly walk around oblivious to much of anything other than their own needs. There is a gentle and tender shift, and a growing sense of outward awareness. I also feel myself stepping back and seeing the strengths and capabilities as "tweens" who are strong and sometimes quite wise are rising to the surface. Walking behind Matthew as he made his way down the street today I saw the broad shoulders and the huge feet that are now the same size as my own, and I realized this young man is one who can be counted on. Angela and Olesya grabbed all the bags (7 duffels and 6 backpacks) while I was checking in, loaded them all on the luggage cart, and pushed them all the room while I stood back and let them have the fun of feeling that much more adult. There is an increasing desire in all 3 to share the load, and to help take care of the business at hand.

I also find myself being cared for in new ways. A silent taking of a heavy load, the "Don't worry Mom, I'll go ask the front desk for more towels.", the arranging and cleaning up of things around our room. Is it perfect? No...but it doesn't need to be. I am more interested in the fact that anyone even sees what needs to be done and does it without prompting than I am that anything look perfect. There is a touching concern for me and my welfare...Angela telling me to leave my purse behind and only carry money in my pocket so I don't get my purse snatched, Matthew saying to me tonight "Mom, you must be so tired after that long drive and being up late tonight. Go ahead and get in bed, I'll take care of everything else.", and Olesya gently removing Joshie's shoes after he feel asleep with them on, then moving on to me to take mine off as well as we both giggled.

Then there is Kenny, my sweet little guy who thinks ever-so-mistakenly that his mother is perfect. He is not at the maturity level or awareness yet that the other older kids are, but he is our little worker bee, jumping in enthusiastically to get the job done no matter how bad it is, and always quick with a complement for me regardless of how rough a day we might have had together.

And we have had some rough ones recently...

Kenny has reverted in his typically cyclical nature to being Man In Charge. Yes, we are back to Mr. Kenny thinking he is in control of everyone and everything around him, so reminiscent of his first year home. We haven't had this kind of backsliding in a very long time, and it is proving more frustrating this time around for me to deal with it, probably because I was beginning to think we had licked it once and for all. He also is paying far less attention than he normally does. With his very real auditory processing issues, we struggle with this daily even when he is trying his hardest, but when he blows it off he just tends to do what he thinks he may have heard and ignores the fact that he really has no idea what was said. This can make for some very long and repetitious days for me as I find myself repeating the same things 5 and 6 times. Some of it is control oriented, some of it is carelessness and inattention. But I realized I was not the only one this weekend being pretty deeply affected by it when he very uncharacteristically said something a little unkind to Olesya (and she overreacted a bit as it touched a raw nerve in her about her own insecurities), and in exploration I realized the root cause was once again Kenny being upset over not being in charge.

So I decided to take a different direction with discipline. Tiring of the same result, and frustrated with feeling "stuck" the past few weeks with him, I realized we needed to upset the apple cart a bit and get creative. If I am being honest, I also recognized that I had left out a key component to any good disciplinary program...God. Duh...

After the incident with Olesya Saturday, Dominick and I gathered everyone around the dining room table where the lights had been extinguished and a couple of candles had been lit. Dominick had no idea what I had in mind, but he is always one to be willing to try a different approach so he quietly followed my lead. I said we needed a family conference, and we needed to invite God to be part of it. We all held hands and were quiet for a moment, then we offered up a prayer asking God to be with us in a recognizable way, as our family needed the Spirit's presence to help us sort out our current struggle.

I then proceeded to tell everyone that we were obviously having some challenges, and I felt it was important for us all to share what our feelings were. I then encouraged each of the kids to kindly explain to Kenny how his behavior the past few weeks had been effecting them, saying that he had heard mainly from Mom on this matter but he was not seeing how what he said or did touched everyone. It took a couple of minutes and a nudge or two for everyone to feel safe enough to open up, but one by one each of the kids looked Kenny in the eye and told him how they felt. I was so pleased that this was not an attack session, as I had hoped it wouldn't turn into, but an honest expression of frustration over being ordered around all the time, and having time continually taken away from their school work or family fun time to discipline him.

He had been pretty immune to Mom and Dad, but it proved to be much harder to be immune to the tears of Olesya as she couldn't look at him as she told him how much he had hurt her feelings with his comments. He also couldn't ignore it when they told him they wanted their family "back the way it used to be" a few weeks ago and that they missed the Kenny who was sweet. His sisters and brothers were far more effective than we ever could have been, and it was an incredibly powerful experience to see Kenny literally connect it all right before our eyes. The tears flowed as he apologized for his behavior, and he was deeply moved by seeing every one of his siblings cry over his own distress. However, they held firm and when I guided them to tell Kenny of the one thing they would like to see him change they said through their own tears things like "Please listen to Mom and Dad", "Don't tell us what to do anymore" and "Pay more attention.".

Then, there by candlelight, each person shared what they loved most about Kenny, and things like "You are so funny and happy all the time!" and "You help everyone more than anyone in our family" came out. He heard so many things that make him special! He couldn't stop the tears as he said "I don't know why you guys still love me!" and then, without any prompting Angela said "We always love you, you are our family." and then Josh, then Matthew, then Olesya all said the same thing...We love you forever, you are our family.

With the help of everyone at the table, including Kenny, we came up with possible future disciplinary actions, and I'll be darned if the kids didn't have some good suggestions including removing Kenny from family situations when he escalates his behavior occasionally. We talked about what we would do if he made our trip to California difficult, and I explained that being the only adult with 5 kids I needed him to be at his best or it would be too hard. We all agreed to come home and cut our trip short, but Kenny said "That's not fair to you guys" and before I could say a word Angela threw out "Yes it is, we love you and will not leave you alone".

We ended in prayer again, thanking God for being with us as we dealt with the hard stuff. We sat there for a moment, candles burning slowly down, staring at one another...this precious family of ours. It was a holy moment, one that was prompted initially by frustration and anger, yet ended in a united family dealing with the every day simple problems we all face. It was obvious that Kenny had "heard" the message in a way he had never yet heard it, and that all the other kids felt they too had been heard. It was a new level of communication for us all, and a moving experience for each of us as we worked with the Spirit to bring honesty, understanding and love to the forefront.

I am also quite pleased to see the results. Kenny took it to heart, his behavior has drastically improved, and I noticed him catching himself twice over the past couple of days as he started to tell one of the other kids what to do, then verbally backed up. I know we are not done with some of these issues, and are likely to revisit them a few more times, but we have broken through and created a new awareness for him which might help significantly in the future when it rears its ugly head and needs to be once again tamed.

I am still stymied by another very heartfelt issue. Tonight as we were on the Strip, it was Angela's turn to sit in the front seat and Mommy stuff came up again. She told me she can't stop feeling badly about how she knows she hurt us at first in Kazakhstan, and it is really bothering her. She tried hard not to cry, and managed to keep the tears in but her chin was sure quivering and the lump in her voice was obvious. As her love for us continues to grow, as we talk more about the years we loved them and waited for them, the more the guilt seems to build no matter how I have tried to reassure her about it all. Even over there it was plain to see she had a loyal streak a mile long, and that loyalty is now eating her up inside as she realizes how hurt we must have been. I have tried every direction I can think of to help her create space for forgiving herself, but nothing is working. She seems to understand we were not ever nor are we now angry over it, and that we knew there were all kinds of complications going on inside her head and heart. It is not about us, it is about her viewing her own actions and being ashamed and embarrassed by it. Somehow I need to come up with a strategy that will help her release that, for I sure don't want her carrying it around inside.

So, as seems to be par for the course for Team LaJoy, in the midst of the laughter and outwardly carefree times, there is always an inner layer of meaning and moments requiring intense attention to the soul stuff. Just as it is a different kind if discipline we tried with Kenny, it is a different kind of life we lead, I guess. And that is just fine with me.

Off to California and first visits with Grandma's!



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Real Courage

I stumbled upon this article this morning, found online through AOL's sports news at:

http://nfl.fanhouse.com/2010/08/14/glen-coffee-on-sudden-retirement-ive-told-christ-its-time-to/?icid=main|htmlws-main-n|dl4|link3|http%3A%2F%2Fnfl.fanhouse.com%2F2010%2F08%2F14%2Fglen-coffee-on-sudden-retirement-ive-told-christ-its-time-to%2F

Glen Coffee on Sudden Retirement: 'I've Already Told Christ It's Time to Go'

8/14/2010 4:30 PM ET By FanHouse Staff

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    • FanHouse Staff
Glen CoffeeGlen Coffee's stunning retirement Friday sparked a lot of speculation as to the reason -- including guesses that Coffee had failed a drug test or been involved in a spat with 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Turns out, the truth is much less sinister: Saturday, Coffee told Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee that he's headed back to school to complete his undergraduate degree and pursue a master's degree, a decision rooted in his deep religious beliefs.

"Actually when I look back I feel I never should have entered the draft in the first place," said Coffee, who left the University of Alabama after his junior year. "Football was no longer my dream. I found Christ in college. It changed my views on everything. But I still was a football player because it was expected of me, it was something I did all my life. I was basically wasting the [49ers'] time."

"His will, I felt, wasn't football. I felt like I forced football because everyone expected me to play football. He told me a long time ago to walk away from the game."


The 23-year-old's discussion with Barrows seemingly squashed the possibility that he'd go back on his retirement announcement.

"I've already told Christ it's time to go. I've already rung the bell. That's not going to happen," Coffee told Barrows.

San Francisco had been counting on Coffee to help spell starting RB Frank Gore, just as Coffee did during his rookie season. In 14 games last year -- including two starts -- Coffee carried the ball 83 times for 226 yards and a touchdown. Between Coffee and rookie Anthony Dixon, the 49ers were hoping to limit the beating Gore took in 2010. Most of that challenge will now fall on Dixon, unless the 49ers make a move to add another running back.

After Coffee's sudden announcement Friday, Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald tweeted, "Having covered 49ers RB Glen Coffee for 3 years, not surprised he retired. He has a higher call. Wouldn't shock me if he headed to ministry."

Coffee didn't specifically say that's in his plans after he returns to school at Alabama -- he's just six hours shy of his undergraduate degree in consumer affairs -- but he didn't rule it out either.

"There's going to be people that understand and there's going to be people that don't understand and don't care to understand," Coffee told Barrows. "They're going to feed off that negativity. That's life."

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I am impressed on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. Whether a Christian or not, it is pretty surprising to read about someone making a decision like this. Today's sports world is rife with stories of pettiness, selfishness, and those capitalizing on every marketing opportunity available. The world of professional sports arena also seems to be filled with many young men who are hailed as heroes one day and the next night are involved in serious criminal behavior.

What Glen Coffee has done is sure to be a huge surprise to many. He will likely be ridiculed and called a "fool" for walking away from the incredible sums of money that were no doubt in his future should he have remained a football player. Instead, he is walking away from the fame and fortune towards a very different kind of life. He is admitting a mistake in playing pro football as he said "I felt like I forced football because everyone expected me to play football. He told me a long time ago to walk away from the game."

How many of us are living lives that are inauthentic due to the expectations of others? How many of us are unable to summon the courage to step off the path we are on because we earn too much money and let ourselves be enslaved by that, or because we'd loose perceived prestige if we were unable to attach a title to our names?

It doesn't have to be a call to ministry, it can be a call to live a life that is different than the one we currently live. God uses each and every one of us to minister to others, it doesn't have to happen in pastoral garb. In my case, it happens to be within the context of family and the circles that ripple out from there. It might eventually lead to ministry in some form or another, or it might not, but I am reminded almost hourly that ministry happens at it's most effective often far away from the doors of a Sanctuary. Ministry happens in the aisles of the local supermarket, sitting on the bench watching a kids sports event. God works through each and every Christian to minister at the insurance office, on the field trip, in prisons between prisoners, in homes across the world.

When we confine ministry to those in robes or to places that have pipe organs, we confine God and elevate that which we should not. We also limit the limitless potential we each have to be God in the world, which is what we are called to do...bring light to the world. Ministry happens in all professions, not just those with the title of "Reverend". Mr. Coffee may or may not decide to enter seminary, but he has already been a minister in every way, setting an example to the world on a quite public stage that remaining in a role which feels as if it is contrary to God's call for our lives is a mistake, and he had the courage to back that up with action.

We associate the words "call" with only those who enter ministry, but we all have a "call" for our lives that may or may not be heeded. My call was quite surprising, both that it has been a call to ministry, and that we absolutely were called to move to Colorado, called to adopt, called to adopt 5 children rather than the 1 or 2 we imagined. We have been called to homeschool, called to volunteer when we were involved in public school, and I have no doubt that Dominick has been called to the unlikely career of being a car detailer.

Glamorous? No, but it is what God wants for him and he listened...and touches countless lives himself amongst those he has nurtured (and tough loved) who work for him...guys who have DUI's and can't get jobs elsewhere other than seasonal work, guys who have police records but need a chance to work somewhere, young guys working for the summer between high school and college. He was reminded that his "call" was also a ministry years back when one young man's mother saw him after having worked with her college bound son one summer and revealed that his college entrance essay was written about the man who taught him how to be a responsible man...the car wash guy who employed him that summer.

Glen Coffee senses that his call is not to be in professional football, that God wants to use him in some other capacity. He is willing to walk away from what others spend their entire lives trying to achieve, all so he can find his true path in this world. He is not even sure exactly what that path is, but he understands now what it is not.

In my book, that is real courage.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Success!!!!!!

I don't think I ever could fully find the words to share the sheer terror that at moments coursed through my soul over in Kazakhstan, and that terror did not revolve so much around bringing home pre-teen girls who came to us with such a rocky start (No, that terror was reserved for later...hahaha!).

It was homeschooling them.

Homeschooling them all...5 kids...no experience...2 brand spanking new English Language Learners, one not so new English Language Learner with obvious learning issues, one accelerated learner, and one right on target sweetie pie.

All by myself, uneducated in the ways of teaching, inexperienced as can be, and thinking to myself "Shoot God, you really know how to freak a gal out, don't you? Couldn't have asked anything a little less scary of me, could you?" and yet knowing full well that this wasn't really a choice I was being given, this was a calling I was being asked to acknowledge. Of course I DID have a choice and do every day of my life, for that is what free will is all about, but that doesn't mean I want to allow myself that choice to go against what it feels like God has asked of me.

Dominick tried to calm my fears about it, yet we both knew the burden rested solely on my shoulders for the most part and that I had his support but his way of truly supporting the effort was to go out and somehow earn enough greenbacks to keep me home to be able to do it.

I walked the floors countless sleepless evenings, crying and scared over any number of things, but this was the biggest one. I tried to imagine our first days home and where would I even begin, how would I start??? I told myself over and over again that I was not qualified to do this and yet knew our daughters would be so very vulnerable if we placed them in school, which is also an odd thing because they are both incredibly strong, but that vulnerability has played out in just what we are seeing right now...living the life of mermaids and playing with playdough, and the need to do things they would be ashamed to do in front of typical kids their age. Somehow, at a gut level I knew all of this (thanks for the wisdom and years of research, God!) and couldn't ignore it. I also was beginning to see things in Kenny that scared me, reinforcing my opinion that something wasn't right and his issues were far larger than just being home 3 years and needing more time. How would I be able to work with that? And how would I do all this and still give Matt and Josh what they needed?

OK..so some of those questions still remain, but this week they took their testing required by our program for the beginning of the year, and Mom got her report card. It was pretty darned good, if I say so myself, and I couldn't be more pleased.


And I finally let go of the breath I had been holding since December.

You won't believe this, we have been home a mere 6 months with the girls who spoke barely a lick of English.

Olesya tested out as reading at 2nd grade 3rd month and Angela at 3rd grade 2nd month!!!!!! Not an ounce of help, their test took them each close to two hours and their speed is slow, but man, I am STUNNED at their progress!! Olesya even tested at 3rd grade science! We have a ways to go with Language Arts, but Angela scored 2nd grade while Olesya struggles with the concepts on some things and scored below 2nd (they only start at 2nd with the scale).

Olesya was not reading well in Russian, and Angela had shared with me that there were often tears from her as she did her homework, but that she was a good student and cared a lot. For her to be reading this well in English after only having 2 1/4 years of school in Kazakhstan is a huge deal, heck it is a huge deal for both of them and Angela eagerly leaned over my shoulder after completing each test to see how she scored, and it was such a pleasure to watch her face light up to see the results of their hard work. And believe me, it has been HARD work...these girls have rocked it and never let up, and their reward came when seeing that score.

We had some success with Kenny as well, having tested for a baseline at the end of May, he showed a 5 word per minute increase and a small bump in reading level. While his comprehension is at 4th grade, it is his fluency that is getting in his way of taking off, but it looks like jumping back to beginning phonics and letting him read lots of "baby" books which he never had the chance to do in school as everyone kept moving ahead of him is helping.

Joshie took the test for the first time and scored mid 2nd grade on everything and beginning 3rd for math, all of which was no surprise to us and he is a steady little student who will do well.

Matthew quietly rocked the house and not yet entering 6th grade he scored mid-8th on science and math, and is essentially done with their scoring on reading at 10th grade level as that is the highest they go on this program. What I loved most was his quiet grin, and he walked away feeling no need whatsoever to brag to his siblings. Yet he cheered them all on when we were celebrating their successes.

Wanna know why going against birth order and all the adoption "rules" works in our house? Wanna know why both Angela and Kenny view Matt as their eldest sibling in all ways but a number? It is because of the character of this young man who leads the way all good leaders do...quietly and humbly, and walking in the way God has taught him too. The quietest one has never asserted his place, he simply reflects his maturity and thoughtfulness in non-showy ways and has earned the respect of every single person in our family because of it, including his parents.

So, we look forward to our vacation while still bringing books along so we don't loose all momentum. We recognize there are learning opportunities everywhere and take advantage of them. We know we have oodles of life learning to go with the girls and Kenny.

And me? I am smiling more and stressing a little less, knowing we are in our groove now and that I am not a total failure as I had anticipated I might be. I also rest in the knowledge that while this might not be everyone's idea of a life well lived, for me, it is. I have conquered yet another midnight monster and won, at least for now. I can feel relieved that I am not letting my kids down, at least for now. I can hang my head in shame as I realize how little I trusted God to "equip the called not call the equipped", and continue to trust that in the future as they grow older, somehow God will continue to equip me to do my job.

For this IS a job, believe me, it is not easy and it is thoroughly engaging despite the lack of a fat paycheck as a reward. No, my reward comes in the "light bulb" moments I get to see with my very own kids when they totally get something they didn't get 10 minutes ago. I get to be present for most of their learning and to watch the slow, steady gains and celebrate with them. I get to see the frustration and the tears as Angela had the other day trying to learn to make chance saying "This is SO hard" as she put her head on the table out of collective frustration over EVERYTHING and gave in to it for just a moment....and I could be right there to lift her up, let her burrow into my shoulder for a bit and whisper to her "You are strong, and everything has been so hard for the past 6 months...go ahead and cry, it's OK....you'll get it soon." I then had the ultimate pleasure of seeing her master it 10 minutes later and jump up and down saying "I can do this!"

Of course she can...they all can. So can I.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Hungry Inner Younger Child

Our family is one strange bunch, but then you all know that. I know many would actually label us "freaks" if given the opportunity. No doubt eyes have rolled a lot at moments as we share about the oddities of our lives that others can't even imagine...like having kids sleep on our bedroom floor 3 nights out of 4.

But what many people simply don't understand is that we are not parenting the norm. We are parenting children whose childhoods were interrupted, or never really ever truly began. It creates within them a deep hunger for what was missed, and it is our gut feeling that if we don't somehow provide that in the ways we can, we will be in for big trouble down the road, for the soul never rests until it has been allowed to move through each developmental stage and process it, or at the very least to revisit a stage that was never fully experienced to work it all out.

Once in the past we had this happen, and here we are again. Angela and Olesya both asked us if they could have baby bottles. They were playing with our friends daughter and after she left one night Olesya said "I never had a baby bottle, I wish I have one." I explained that she most likely did have one but couldn't remember it, but that seemed to have little impact, and Angela jumped in saying "I want baby bottle too! Please Mama, we have baby bottle?" and then both proceeded to ask a couple more times before I realized this was one of those stages we need to revisit. Today at Walmart, along with a light bulb for an Easy Bake oven, we purchased 6 baby bottles.

They were opened up before we even left the parking lot.

Upon arrival at home, all 5 kids grabbed their baby bottles and filled them with milk or lemonade. We talked about being rocked as little babies, and Matthew grinned as he remembered the songs I made up and sang to him. I told them all they each had to let me rock them with their bottles, and Kenny reminded me that I did just that with him when he came home. What I loved most was that there wasn't a single moment of embarrassment out of any of them over this, and in fact when we had to go get haircuts each child brought their baby bottle along with them in the car, Olesya's tucked safely inside a handmade purse at her hip.

Weird? Yea, I'll give you that, but then nobody ever accused us of being normal. I'd much rather get strange looks from unknown others and meet our kids unique needs than to worry about what is being said behind our back. We had no time for rocking this evening, but I intend to do just that tomorrow, even Angela with her long, gangly legs looked at me eagerly when I offered. I can't imagine not doing it, for it is what our children need, and I am their mother...the one who is supposed to meet those nurturing needs.

This ongoing desire to step back in time, to be mothered and fathered by their new parents, is ramping up. Talking to Olesya yesterday about her birthday and being such a big girl she looked at me with pain filled eyes and said "But Mama...I not that old, I still a little, little girl, OK?" as she begged me to allow her to have the time she needs to step back, then gradually grow up at a slower pace.

I am grateful beyond words for the boys, who shrug their shoulders and say "Hand one over!" rather than hoot and holler about how silly or babyish it is.


Our little 11 year old needs to be 8 or 9 for awhile, or maybe even 4 or 5, and we are doing our darnedest to allow it for as long as we can. They both need to live in the magical world of the tooth fairy and Santa Clause, at least for a little while. They need to play with baby dolls and stuffed animals for as long as they might need to so that they can then gradually move forward at a speed that works for them...and they need to be protected while this process occurs. They need Barbies and Little Pet Shops, bubbles and glow sticks. They need lullabies and loving snuggles for a long time to come.

They also need the freedom to be the wise old woman that resides within each of them which makes herself known on occasion, and that wisdom deserves to be respected. It can be mind boggling difficult to keep up with, but recognizing the two worlds our daughters are trapped between is terribly important. It validates their life experience, and it keeps them from feeling so alone.

And after all, childhood is not that long anyway. Let 'em have it while they still can.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Olesya!!



Monday was the 2nd of the 1st's...the first birthdays celebrated at home. Olesya turns 11 on the 12th, so we had her party that evening. 16 kids, 8 watermelons, and a ton of fun! I am NOT good at party planning or creative in any way, actually, so coming up with ideas is always a struggle. As I was on my way to the store yesterday I decided I might do a watermelon thing, so bought a couple carts full of watermelons and we were on our way. We had a watermelon eating contest, a seed spitting contest, a watermelon roll across our lawn and an attempt at a cake shaped like a watermelon in addition to our traditional LaJoy chocolate birthday cake with sprinkles on top and toothpicks in the middle. We lucked out and had terrific weather for it, despite the rain clouds that threatened for much of the afternoon. Our beautiful birthday girl was in Watermelon Princess heaven, and there were tons of girlie squeals and giggles the entire evening.

We had 16 boys and girls of all ages there, including Olesya's best friend...a 2 year old little sweetie who is the sister of Josh's best buddy. We had a long conversation a week ago about if it was OK to have a best friend who was so young. I pointed out that not a single friend of mine is my age, and that many are much older or at least a few years younger. I told her I thought it was wise of her to be open to having friends of all ages, as it opened up the world to her in ways others don't understand. She grinned, and that settled it, so she now has a new best friend whom she loves dearly.




Despite the chaos and mess, it was such a joy to finally have her home, to not be thinking of her halfway around the world without the chaos, laughter and cake. My heart is at peace now in a way it hasn't been for several years, and it is because of that smiling face and tender soul that has joined us along with her sister. Olesya is the sweetest daughter a mother could ever ask for, even Matthew wrote in her card how sweet she is and how much he loves her. We are a blessed family for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the presence of this wonderful, thoughtful little girl.

BUT...lest you all be living with the mistaken impression (Oh, how wrong you would be!) that the LaJoy Fab Five are perfect, let me share with you that this has been a tough couple of weeks in some ways, as we have steadily gone down hill ending with Mom at the bottom giving a royal chewing out earlier in the day.

We seem to be going through a stage with ALL of them, where they are zoning out, not paying attention, hearing me but not really hearing me. Yes, selective listening has arrived a little early in the pre-teen years at LaJoyville. In a conversation with Dominick yesterday I also admitted that my expectations might be a bit high as well, but all the kids also admitted they just haven't been stepping up to the plate and have been off kilter. None of it has been what I would call "bad", but definitely just not paying attention enough to do a job correctly or making me repeat myself umpteen times which annoys me to no end.

The good thing? Although I absolutely tore into them and let them all know in no uncertain terms that they were being put on notice that this will not continue, in the midst of the silent car drive afterward Angela through her tears said "In Kazakhstan everyone yell at us so loud and spank us so hard. Don't worry Mama, you not bad." And no, her tears did not move me all that much as I was officially "F-R-I-E-D" and said to myself "Good, at least they are paying attention finally!!"...hahaha! Then, as usual, I gave them Stage 2 of my Official Mom Lecture and said "Now, this is over as of right now...I refuse to lose more of our day to being mad and I hope you do the same. You know me, and after I have said what I have to say and chewed you out, I let it go. You know what the expectations are, so live up to them and it is done. Now...you wanna listen to some Mama Mia??"...and other than being a bit frazzled we went on to have a terrific evening.

We now are all gaining momentum for our road trip to CA, where extended family will finally be met and adventures will be had!! First ocean, first hug from new grandmas and aunts and cousins, first time to see a truly huge city, first avocado to eat, first GOOD Mexican food, first time through Vegas and seeing all the lights...it should be wide eyed wonder much of the trip and I'll take as many pictures as I can to share with you all. We leave this next Monday and our only regret is that Dominick will not be going with us. This year has been too much of a challenge with work slowing down due to the economy and then taking so much time off to travel to Kazakhstan, so he will remain behind to work, then take a few days off when Kenny has surgery in September to go with us then. I hate going without him as it leaves a hole in Team LaJoy but he insists that is why I am home, so the kids can have as many adventures as we can cram into their childhood, be it close to home or further away. So, off we will go, car filled to the gills and ready to take on the world! Hahaha!

In the meantime, we still have quite a bit going on here at home before we leave Monday, so I had better get off this computer and get to work!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Corny Weekend...and Yet Not



Thanks, Lenore for the photo!

This weekend was the annual Corn Festival in Olathe, Colorado which is the small neighboring town where our kids have attended school. This is a huge event, where 15,000+ people gather in this little town with a population of maybe 2000 and gorge on all the free sweet corn they can eat. There are tens of thousands of ears of corn consumed, it is a veritable corn gobbling orgy!! It takes hundreds of volunteers to pull this off, and any donations are given to Habitat for Humanity, which our little congregation was instrumental in bringing to Montrose. Our family (and our congregation) has volunteered at this event every year for the past several years, and it is something we wouldn't miss.

Our Pastor and I worked side by side, and got a little corny ourselves. We were hawking our wares like carnival barkers, doing corn dances to lure in people to eat just one more ear, we made puns, sang ditties and generally were cutting up our entire shift and had a blast. As Pastor Karen said, I think we raised the bar this year for corn distribution!! It sure beat the humid and horribly hot shucking tent where I usually get assigned :-)

We also had a booth where the kids hawked their own wares...pre-packaged snacks and pickles. They had such a wonderful time and the girls were enthralled at first as they had never seen that many people or an event such as this. They quickly got in the spirit of things as they chomped on ear after ear, wandered around with friends, and sold snacks like pros. The boys also had a ton of fun and it was a great learning experience on so many levels for them all as they practiced making change, suggestive selling, learned about profit and loss and all the work that goes into making even a small business successful. We had rain much of the afternoon and early evening which slowed sales considerably. We didn't make a ton of money which was to be used towards their camp costs, but they gained so much in other ways that it was well worth it.

And the day proved well worth it in other ways too, ways that are more important and not measured by cold hard cash in the palm of your hand. You know, when you want to see it, the Holy surrounds us...yes...even at the Olathe Corn Festival. I saw it everywhere, was immersed in it throughout the day and well into the evening.

Watching a community pull together to create an event like this which absolutely can not occur without the volunteers giving up their time is sacred in itself. People from many different denominations and political groups putting aside differences to bring joy to others...it is something not often seen today in our contentious and often divided world.

There was the love of a mother for her child...interrupted twice during the Wynona Judd concert as she had to make a potty run and did so without complaint, settling back into her seat after the final trip to have her beloved daughter fall asleep in her arms while our sons lay together on a blanket at our feet, fast asleep after a fun but exhausting day. Buddies big and small cuddled up in a single blanket blond hair and dark Asian hair sticking out from underneath, tucked in as if merely brothers from another mother.

Conversations of depth and substance as others walked past, God being explored in the most unexpected place and yet isn't that where it SHOULD be happening...as part of our everyday lives rather than reserving such dialogue for Sunday only?

The sacred is not devoid of humor. The laughter and delight that was shared as gloved hands held corn up high, waving and serving as we traded thoughts about the joys of being free to embrace our eccentricity was just as sacred a moment as any other, wrapped in smiles and joy. It also was a welcome reprieve from the seriousness of our usual conversations, a time when we could relax and share our quirkiness rather than my tears.

Dominick traipsing through the rain-soaked grass, kids at his heel as they tried to sell 3 ' long licorice to other kids waiting for the concert to begin...and the grins on the faces of our children as they come running back to our canopy to dry off and warm up a bit.

Standing outside with Angela tucked in to my chest, burrowing deeply as we rocked together to the beat of the music from some unknown local band, damp hoodies and wet feet, yet warm deep inside in a way no one else would ever understand. The clouds break way, giving space for the sunlight to cast its shafts of golden early evening light upon us all...and yet somehow feeling it was just for us as we continued to snuggle and sway. Olesya walking up and silently wrapping her arms around us and all 3 of us holding on for dear life, a little piece of us collectively acknowledging what we almost missed out on a few months ago.

Sitting side by side with the daughters of another woman whom I admire greatly who has shared pieces of her life with me, as I shared a piece of our life with them. Hooting and hollering as Wynona rocked it, then coming almost to tears as she sang the final song which I, not being a huge follower of the Judd's, had not really listened too deeply before but suddenly stunned to hear my own life this year played out in her husky voiced lyrics:

Love Can Build a Bridge

I'd gladly walk across the desert
With no shoes upon my feet
To share with you the last bite
Of bread I had to eat
I would swim out to save you
In your sea of broken dreams
When all your hopes are sinkin'
Let me show you what love means

(Chorus)

Love can build a bridge
Between your heart and mine
Love can build a bridge
Don't you think it's time?
Don't you think it's time?

I would whisper love so loudly
Every heart could understand
That love and only love
Can join the tribes of man
I would give my heart's desire
So that you might see
The first step is to realize
That it all begins with you and me

(Repeat Chorus)

When we stand together
It's our finest hour
We can do anything, anything
Keep believin' in the power

(Repeat Chorus)

Love and only love
Love and only love


Yes, I have seen it with my own eyes, I have lived it thanks to God's everlasting grace and presence. Love CAN build a bridge in even the most hopeless of circumstances. I would walk across deserts, I would swim any ocean, I would offer myself up completely for those I love.

For that is what God, through others, has offered me.

A corny weekend, maybe. A blessed one, certainly.